NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C.—The metaphor was so obvious, even cliché, but it was also inescapable: As Pete Buttigieg was driving here from Columbia for a town hall late Saturday afternoon, huge, dark clouds moved into the sunny sky, and a cold wind started blowing through the heat.
“We’re hoping to beat the rain,” Buttigieg told me over the phone, looking out the window, as the crowd and I were waiting for him to arrive. “Looks like something biblical is happening here.”
The South Bend, Indiana, mayor has had the most charmed rise of any 2020 candidate. Given the leap he’s made from an obscure small-city mayor to a top-tier presidential contender, his is arguably one of the most charmed political ascents ever in American politics. Yet there’s been no charm to the past week of his campaign. Back home, a white police officer’s fatal shooting of a black man armed with a knife has exploded years of built-up racial tension in the city. And for all the people nationally who’ve been dazzled by his knack for offering answers that seem to fit problems like puzzle pieces, the voters back home don’t seem satisfied by what the mayor has come up with so far.
“When you’re in charge of the city, you know that any given day, things can come up and will come up that you have to answer for, first as mayor and then also in the context of the campaign,” he told me. He was never expecting the worst-case scenario of the past week to actually happen, though.